The Spirit of Fair Play and Sportsmanship

Fight someone your own size

I have often been asked by foreigners where they can read about the British traditions of ” fair play” and “sportsmanship”. (I call them British traditions because most foreign languages have adopted these British words; this fact shows the origin of the ideas.) It is not very easy to find books which clearly explain them. The truth is that they are learnt by children when they are very small-first from the parents, then from the little democracies of children among whom they play, and finally at school.

One of the basic principles is, that every child, whether weak or strong, skilful or clumsy, older or younger (within the span of years of the group), is entitled to fair treatment. For instance, at cricket it is interesting to bat or bowl, and not so interesting to be one of the fielders. The natural tendency of the bigger boys would be to monopolize the batting and bowling, and make the smaller ones act as “fielders” most of the time. Even when a little boy does get his turn to bat, a big boy who is bowling can bowl a fast ball; naturally the little boy cannot hit it, and is ” out ” almost at once.

But the parents always strongly impress on the bigger children that they must give the little ones an equal chance at all times. An “equal chance” at cricket means that the bowler must bowl gently when the batsman is a little boy. When one watches a group of children playing, it is surprising how often one hears the phrases, “It’s not fair to do that!” “He must have a fair turn!” and so on. These are slogans which have been planted in them by the parents, and now the children have fully adopted them.

A bigger boy must not fight a smaller boy, unless the little one deliberately provokes it. Even then, the bigger one has to be very careful; if he is too rough, the others will often join in against him. If an adult sees two small boys fighting, he never interferes unless one is considerably bigger; in that case, the grown-up will generally stop the fight and say to the bigger boy, ” Go and fight someone who is your own size” The phrase ” fight someone your own size ” is an important slogan impressed on children. The principle is formalized in sports like boxing, where the contestants fight within a narrow range of weights.

We never developed anything like the Jujutsu technique, because these boxing and wrestling were regarded as somewhat low-class means of fighting originally. By the time the gentlemen took up boxing, the technique had become formalized and there was no possibility of development.

Don’t hit a man when he’s down

A similar principle applies when one contestant in a fight falls to the ground. It is regarded as against the principle of fair play to pursue the advantage and go on hitting. “Don’t hit a man when he’s down” is a magical phrase to stop an Englishman if he is vindictively pursuing an advantage; he at once feels ashamed.

For instance, if there is a big dispute on the Board of a company, perhaps one director loses, and has to resign on the spot. Sometimes in such a case, his principal opponent will want to go on revengefully, by immediately withdrawing the use of a company car, and so on. But generally other Board members will say, “No, that’s hitting a man when he’s down,” and they prevent it. This principle of courtesy towards the vanquished, even though he may be hated, comes from chivalry-or rather, from the ideals of chivalry, for unfortunately it was not always followed in practice.

It is worth noting that in the ” 007″ films, the hero James Bond does not kill a man who is helpless, or one who does not know he is being attacked. Bond kills many people in these films, but only in some sort of fight. He could not be an acceptable hero if he killed men who were helpless or unaware.

Another phrase which is much in use is ” under-dog”. This refers to a dog-fight, when one dog has lost its footing and is on its back, in a position of disadvantage. There is a wide-spread principle of ” sympathy for the under-dog “. This developed markedly during the Industrial Revolution (which was so ruthless towards the underdog), and now has become so strong that it is in danger of degenerating into mere sentimentality. Sometimes people today appeal to this principle when opposing the examination system, because those who succeed can go on to superior schools, and those who fail can not. It is said that this is ” unfair ” to the children who have failed. There have been some sarcastic letters to the newspapers about this sentimentality : on the same basis, the letter-writers said, we should give prizes equally to the losers in a race, as it would be unfair not to give the losers, the under-dogs, the same prize as the winners!

Properly speaking, the word “fair” means “a fair fight” or a “fair competition”-it does not mean that one side cannot or must not win. After a football match between schools, the winners give Three Cheers for the losers, and then the losers give Three Cheers for the winners. This is done in some Japanese schools, but in Britain it continues into the university sports also. After a match, the losers congratulate the winners, and the winners also congratulate the losers, and say, “It was a good fight, we were lucky.” The losers do not feel ashamed, and the winners do not exult. At least, they do not exult openly.
I remember when I first saw a Japanese students’ team championship in Judo; it was a very close fight, and both sides fought splendidly. To my amazement, after the prize-giving ceremony, the losers slunk away and the winners stood on the platform while their fellow students triumphantly bellowed out the university song. I felt quite embarrassed, and I went after the losing side to congratulate them on having fought so well. I was surprised again to find how terribly depressed they were.

The only time I can remember seeing in Japan a loser congratulating a winner, or a winner congratulating a loser on a good fight, was when a Kohai lost to a Senpai in a contest. (I use the Japanese words because we have no real English translation for them. In English the words “junior” and “senior” do not carry as a rule any implication except age.)

When someone is in real difficulties, English people often try to help, even though it is a complete stranger. I don’t mean that every Englishman is so chivalrous, but there are quite a lot who are. In one of the biggest political demonstrations ever held in London, there was a head-on clash with the police in front of the U. S. Embassy. One policeman was knocked to be the ground. Two of the protestors (students, a man and a girl) helped the injured policeman up, and escorted him through the crowd of demonstrators to an ambulance. The other protestors made way for them.

Such cases are not rare. I remember one at a big university, where a most unpopular student was caught by a group of his opponents, who were going to duck him in the fountain in one of the courts of the university. (I must admit that he was a very unpleasant man who did make himself a thorough nuisance in many ways.) A number of other students were looking on, but no one interfered. Then a friend of mine (also a student) jumped forward and shouted, “This is all wrong!” The group said to him, “If you interfere we will duck you too,” and he shouted back, “I don’t care if you do-but someone must stand out against this sort of thing.” Then, as he told me later, a number of the by-standers joined in and supported him, and the ducking did not take place. I should say this is a typical case: the by-standers do not approve, but they don’t interfere unless someone gives a lead. Then they all join to support him. And this is because we are trained from childhood to feel that we ought to protect the “under-dog”.

On the Continent, I have sometimes seen a group of young people teasing or bullying another one, and I noticed that occasionally by-standers seemed to be enjoying it. In Japan it seems to me that there is often a strong feeling of sympathy for the victim, but not very many people are willing to take the lead in opposing the bullying. One of the strong points of British society is that there is often someone who will give a lead, even though he knows that he is risking his own safety. Once someone gives that lead, many others join in.

In April 1971 a big London newspaper reported that an elderly Member of Parliament was travelling late on the Underground with a friend, and he saw four youths taunting an elderly man. The two went along the carriage to help the older man, and the youths attacked them. But at the next station the four ran out. This story illustrates two things: that British M. P.’s are sometimes not wealthy and do not own a car; and second, that they are willing to go across and help someone who is at a disadvantage.

A similar case: a 61-year old man, named Prosser, was at a bank at Cardiff when there was a bank raid. He tripped up one of the raiders and managed to get his gun. Four of the criminals were later arrested. The judge highly praised Mr. Prosser and remarked: “At the risk of your own safety you intervened and secured that gun. The whole community must respect your action and be profoundly grateful for it.” It is pleasant to add that the British Banks Association also presented Mr. Prosser with a cheque for one thousand pounds in recognition of his public- spirited action.

Of course, many of the ordinary public would be too scared to intervene, but still there are quite a number who-if they see a chance-do take it. This is due to the education of the small children, who are taught to despise oppression by the strong, and to intervene to prevent it.
I may say here that British people would strongly disagree with the remarks in Shintaro Ishihara’s “Spartan Education” where he says that people should not intervene in fights between elder and younger brothers. In Britain they would intervene if the brothers were markedly of different strength. It is not that we think it is especially bad if a small boy does get teased or even “roughed up” a little bit. But we think it is very bad for the stronger boy, because it tends to turn him into a habitual bully.

The Principle of Fairness

Nowadays a bully is despised very much. There has been a big change in British opinion on this question since the last century. Even as late as Kipling, at the very end of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, you can find the idea that a new recruit in the army must be bullied, persecuted and frightened till he is nearly ready to commit suicide. Only then will he be “hardened” and be a good soldier. But now the climate of opinion is quite different. We feel that a man should indeed be hardened, but hardened in combat against opponents of his own level, so that he sometimes wins and sometimes not; or else hardened in struggle with natural obstacles such as heat and cold, lack of sleep and so on. But he should not be subjected to the casual cruelty of those who are senior to him by a year or two.

It is widely believed now that bullying reveals a fundamental weakness of character. There is a saying “Every bully is a coward at heart”. This is not true in every case, but it is true of many cases. It refers specially to cases where the bully was once a weak man who was relentlessly bullied. He had to nurse his resentment and spite in secret. Later, having attained a position is of power, he expresses that spite by bullying someone else. He is compensating for the conviction of weakness which haunts him from the memory of his early days. The strength of feeling against bullying is sometimes surprising. For instance, here is an extract from the Daily Telegraph of April 1971:

“A 26-year old labourer was jailed for three months after pleading guilty to using threatening behaviour. He was said to have been one of a mob of shouting youths, two gangs facing each other. He was arrested by the police after he had hit someone much smaller than himself.”
This was during a national holiday, when there are sometimes fights between rival groups of youths. They are not criminal gangs, but just bored and aggressive young people. The important thing to note is the phrase; “he was arrested by the police after he had hit someone much smaller than himself” I cannot remember seeing such a phrase in any French or German newspaper.

The example of bullying is often used by British people when they want to emphasize social responsibility. In the so-called “public schools” in England, where the schoolboys live together in the school, there must always be a danger of bullying. The masters find this very difficult to prevent, because it is hard for them to get to know about it. So it is necessary for schoolboys to feel their own responsibility. It is regarded as cowardly to look away and pretend not to see what is happening. When Lord Longford opened a campaign against certain social evils, he said in a speech: “I know that I am going to meet ridicule and also active opposition. But it is like bullying at school. One sees the bullying and one assumes that the headmaster will do something about it. Then suddenly one realizes that the headmaster is not going to do anything. And one realizes that one cannot just avert one’s eyes and refuse to face the issue. One has to intervene at whatever cost.”

I don’t say that all British people will intervene when they see something wrong. But still, we feel that we ought to do so. And if someone does give a lead, generally there will be a good number in the crowd who will support him.
There is an incident in one of Saiichi Maruya’s novels in which the elder brother evades the draft, and his little brother at school is beaten by a military officer because of the elder brother’s crime. This would be absolutely inconceivable in Britain, even if the elder brother had done something much more serious-had been an active is traitor for example. It would be so absolutely contrary to the principle of “fairness”. No doubt it could not happen in Japan now either.

British schoolboys used to have a famous phrase to describe a very strict master: “He’s a beast, but he’s a just beast.” Provided the strictness is directed equally towards all the pupils, then the schoolboys will respect that master, however strict he is. But if he is unfair, if the punishments do not correspond to actual offences, or if he has favourites and some whom he specially persecutes, then he is not respected.

The mania for fairness in everything can of course go too far, as I have already mentioned. I remember seeing a Japanese university which did not have much money, and there were just two table-tennis tables. The rule was, apparently, that the winner of a match stayed on the table, and the next in the queue came up and challenged him. If the new man won, he would go to the other end of the table and stay there until he was beaten. Of course the effect was that the two best players simply stayed there for an hour, and all the others came up to play against them.

This could never happen in a British university; each pair (or foursome) would wait in the queue, and each time there would be a complete change. So everyone would get the same time on the table.

But still, I could see a certain advantage in the Japanese system, if the purpose is to attain a high standard of table tennis. Because it meant that everyone, even the weakest player, could have a chance of a game with the champions; whereas with the British system, the good players generally play together, and the weak players also have to play together. Thus the weak players do not necessarily get much chance of improving their game by playing against strong opponents.

I suppose the British view is, that most of the students only wish to play table tennis as an amusement, and the main thing for them is to be able to play with opponents about their own level. The university team should book the table for an hour at some time in the evening to train with each other. That will be better training than playing against weak players. Such would be the British idea.

I am inclined to think that there is something typical here of the difference between the two countries. The British system is on the surface very just and fair. The Japanese system is not is so just and fair, but hidden in it there is a certain feeling for the weaker ones, and it does in fact give them some opportunities which they do not get under the absolutely “fair” system.

Training in Waiting

One of the pillars of a British up-bringing is that small children are introduced to the reality- principle while they are still very young. Normally a baby follows the pleasure-principle. He expects his demands for pleasure-food, warmth, attention-to be gratified immediately, and if they are not, he cries or rages. Freud described
All this, though he also believed that the libido, the desire for pleasure, was somehow sexual, even in babies.

Besides the pleasure-principle, he postulated a reality-principle, which is recognition that an individual’s demands for pleasure are only one element in a vast and complex environment, and as a result have to be subjected to conscious control.

The impression that many foreigners have of a Japanese family is, that up to the age of five or six or even more, the children hardly come up against the reality-principle. Up to at least five, the parents try to give the children whatever they want, and if it cannot be obtained, they distract the child’s attention so that he forgets what it was that he wanted. This is of course more applicable to the little boys than to the girls, who even from the beginning have to learn to give way to the boy children.

Things are very different in many British families. It is not that the child is not looked after carefully, but he is not allowed to think of himself as the centre of the world, with other people existing only to attend on him.

To give an example from my own childhood. I was the third of the sons, and my memory of when I was four years old shows that the training had already begun. My brothers would have been five and six years old, and we generally played together. When my mother went out in the mornings, we knew she would generally come back about twelve o’clock, and that she would have a cake or some little toy for each of us. So when we heard the front door open, we used to rush into the hall and shout, “Mummy I Have to you got something for me?” I remember clearly how my mother would never give us anything straight away, but used to look at us with a serious face and say, “Now you wait until I have taken my coat off and got tidy.” Then she would is go upstairs to her bedroom, and not come down for about five minutes. We children used to wait at the bottom of the stairs. At that age five minutes is a long wait, and to pass the time we used to hang by our hands from the banisters, and guess what she might have brought. After what seemed years, my mother would come down and smile very sweetly at us: then she gave us our little presents. She was always careful that they should be the same for each one, so that there should be no suspicion of favouritism.

I have checked with my brothers, and they too well remember this and other similar cases, showing that the having to wait made a big impression on us as small children. And I see this same kind of training in British families today.

These experiences, intense at the time, developed in us a clear sense of the future, and they also made us realize that besides our own impatient desires there was my mother’s convenience to be considered.

British people when they grow up can wait for a long time for something without too much strain: when a small child has learned to wait five minutes, as an adult he can easily wait a year.
A prominent figure in the Japanese Treasury and later in banking, who knows Britain well, once said to me: ” In Japan we have a saying that when you talk of next year, the devil laughs. But I found during my stay in Britain that if you don’t talk of next year, the British laugh.”

When we look at Japanese people, we feel that there is an inner impatience about them. I do not mean that Japanese people cannot wait. They can wait, and they certainly do wait, sometimes for long periods. But it seems to me that in general the fact of having to wait produces in them a tremendous inner tension, whereas with
The British, waiting comes much more naturally.

The Reality Principle

The reality principle means widening the child’s horizon. I have mentioned my own childhood, but today also the reality principle is introduced to children very early, even before they can talk. I know a family with a little girl, the first child, who is only just over one year old. She can walk now and is beginning to say a few words. But she understands more than she can speak- she knows what “light” means, and “brick” (her toy bricks). When the parents say “Bring a brick”, she will toddle across the room to fetch a brick, and most times she brings it back. When she does, the parents are careful to say “Thank is you”. (Rather rare in Japan, as far as my experience goes.)

One of the words she understands is “No”. There is a big low table in the main room, and the baby can easily stand up and pick up things which are on this table (it is about as high as a Japanese table on tatami). When the little girl sees some brightly coloured object like a pencil, she at once stretches out and tries to pick it up. However when there is a tea-tray with cups on it, and she reaches out for one, the parents say clearly and slowly, “No”. To my surprise the baby nearly always takes back her hand. Then they pick her up and cuddle her.

I asked how they had trained her, and they said, “When first we said No she still picked the thing up, and we took it away and gave her hand just the tiniest smack. Of course she cried, but we didn’t give in. Now she understands that when we say NO she must stop, and then we always reward her. She knows that she mustn’t touch something if we say NO, but she knows too that she will get something else that will make her happy.”

This is not the same as the discipline in the Victorian age, which was based almost entirely on punishment. The children were generally afraid. There was a saying, “Little children must be seen but not heard.” It meant that they must not speak unless they were spoken to. The children then were on the surface very well-disciplined, rather solemn in fact. I have noticed some Japanese children in the country, after the age of five or six, with that same solemnity; perhaps it is because they are afraid of their seniors.

Old people in Britain nowadays sometimes say that there is no respect for authority because children are not brought up so strictly. But what they fail to remember is that though the Victorian children were much disciplined on the surface, there was often a tremendous resentment underneath. And this used to burst out in the late teens. If one reads the novels of that time, there is often in them a typical quarrel between the eldest son and the father, or the daughter and the mother, which may result in the son or daughter leaving the family and not returning for a long time. This actually used to happen in real life.

My mother told me that when she was a girl of nearly twenty, there was a great quarrel in the family between the parents and the children. 1 The son left the home and joined the Navy; most of the daughters submitted to the parents, but my mother left home and took up the only career which was then open to girls, namely nursing. After a year the quarrel was mended, but my mother refused to return till she had completed the nursing training of three years. Then she did go home again, but on a new basis of independence; soon afterwards she married.

I cannot remember my mother’s father, who died before I was born, but I do remember her mother-an aristocratic Scottish lady who even when ill would never sit in an armchair, but always sat quite upright on a hard chair. She had a mass of white hair and was a very dignified figure; we small children were much in awe of her. All her children had married, and she did not live with any of them, but in a big house with a companion; as she was rich, she could afford this easily.

Even at the beginning of this century, the children when they married generally used to try to manage to live away from the parents, though visiting them often. (This is becoming the fashion now in Japan, it seems.) Some old people nowadays complain that their children don’t want to have the grand-parents living with them. I ask them, “And did you live with your parents after you married?” and they look surprised and generally they say, “Well, no, as it happens I
Didn’t-but there were special circumstances “
There seem to have been special circumstances in very many cases.

The interesting thing is that many of the present teen-age generation-what one may call the post-Beatles generation-are taking a keen interest in the welfare of solitary old people, not only their own grandparents, but perfect strangers. In the big towns, scores of schoolboys and schoolgirls give up at least one evening a week to visit the home of some old person, and help with the sewing or home repairs and so on.

The present methods of bringing up children seem to give them much more affection towards the older generation in general. Perhaps this is because the reality principle is impressed on the very young children not only by punishment (as was the fashion in the last century and in some families in this century also) but by reward and affection as well.

Précis Writing

There is one element in British education which as far as I know is not found in the educational systems elsewhere, at any rate to the same extent, and that is précis writing. It is a compulsory subject in English schools for several years. It is hardly taught in France, for instance (though the word “précis” is originally a French word), and I suspect that this is one reason for the big difference in the way of thinking of the two peoples.

The précis exercise consists in being given a piece of English writing-for example an essay on ” Gardening as a Hobby “, or one on ” The House of Commons”, which is about 600 words long. This has to be read through carefully, and 2 pupils are tested for comprehension. Then they have to compress it into 100 words. It takes a lot of practice to do this. At first it seems that nothing can be cut out without spoiling the sequence of thought. But gradually one comes to recognize that certain sentences contain the essence of what the writer means, and other sentences are ornamental, or merely giving extra examples, or perhaps oratorical. Most of the sentences which begin “It may also be that ” and “Incidentally ….” can be very much shortened, and an expert can generally boil the whole thing down to 100 words without losing anything essential.

At first one wonders how this can possibly be? But then one comes to see that in fact a newspaper editorial of 600 words begins as an idea which can be expressed in about 80 words, and the writer has blown it up into 600 words. I used to see this process in action at some of the BBC meetings, when a commentator would be asked about his ideas on some political or social development. He used to speak for less than a minute-say 100 words. Then they would say to him, “Yes, that is very good; now will you write a piece on that, say about 700 words?” He would do it, and I would see the full piece later on that day. He would have described the back ground, and given perhaps some historical parallels-but it was really an expansion of the one- minute piece which he began with.

The practice of précis writing makes a big difference to our thinking as school children; after a time it means that one is always trying to find the actual point of what is being said. One tends to ignore flowery phrases, oratory, analogies, quotation from Plato or Marx, examples from history or from other countries. Most Continental people say that the British newspaper editorials are in fact much more “pithy” and clearly set out than is usual on the Continent. And it is due to this early training with précis is writing. (Though I personally think even the British ones too long.)

It is not very easy in Britain for a politician to make highly emotional but vague appeals to the people; the people want exact facts and a concrete programme.

A few years back, in the national controversy about coloured immigrants, Mr. Enoch Powell made some highly-charged speeches about the threat to the traditional values and culture of Britain, which would be caused by the influx of coloured immigrants from different parts of the Commonwealth. He predicted that these immigrants would not be integrated into the British community, but would remain separate groups preserving their own standards and customs; that they would breed very fast, and ultimately form a large intransigent minority of malcontents; and the end would be mass violence.

“I seem to see,” he said in a tremendously emotional speech, “the Tiber running blood.” Mr. Enoch Powell is a clever man, but this was already a mistake in speaking to a modern British audience. Most young people today have no idea what the Tiber is. In fact it was the river running through Rome, and Enoch Powell’s reference was to the civil riots in Rome in Classical times; he is a classical scholar himself, and to a classical scholar who knows Roman history, the phrase is a striking one. But British people who have not heard of the Tiber, or who if they have heard of it perhaps confuse it with the Tagus in Portugal, feel not a respect for the culture of the speaker, but that he is trying to sweep them off their feet with mysterious phrases.

Those who opposed Powell on this issue-namely the vast majority of his fellow politicians- did not meet his emotional arguments by counter -appeals to emotion. They concentrated their attacks on his figures, and showed that his predictions were not justified by the facts. This forced him in turn to try to justify his predictions by producing more figures, and thus the whole debate shifted away from the emotional towards the factual.

The British attitude is this: “Let us first determine the facts exactly, and then, if it is justified, let us get excited over them.” This attitude is one reason why Continental people think that the British are very cold-blooded. They say, “The British try to judge everything on a practical basis. If it is a girl, they judge her on points like a horse: so many points for good looks, so many for intelligence, so many for good family, is so many for money… and only if everything is satisfactory, then fall in love with her! ” There may be something in the accusation, but I suppose the British reply would be: “Well, if all these points are satisfactory, especially the good looks, you are probably in love with her already! The point of making a cool appraisal is to prevent rushing into a disastrous marriage.”

Again and again in British debates you will find a speaker saying, “What does all this actually mean, in simple language?” It is these speakers, not the ones who appeal with clouds of emotional rhetoric, who generally win the audience.

When I think about précis writing, I am reminded of a story about the poet Shelley; the story is probably not true, but it illustrates the British attitude very well. Shelley was attracted by a girl whom he had met, but as he had a bad reputation as a revolutionary, the girl’s parents would not let them meet. He managed to see her maid, and asked the maid to take a message to her mistress. Then he recited ecstatically the famous poem called “Love’s Philosophy”:

See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another,
No sister flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother.
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea,
What are all these kissings worth
If thou kiss not me?”

“Tell her what I have said,” said Shelley.
The maid went back and told her mistress, “I met Shelley and he wants to sleep with you.” “What!” exclaimed the girl, “Such a famous poet and he just said that?”
“Oh,” said the maid, “he did say a lot of other things as well-all about mountains and waves. But that’s all he meant-he wants to sleep with you that was the point.”

First published, February 1976